The death of Chilean Communist Party leader Gladys Marin at age 63 brought back memories of a day in 1974 that I spent with her and her interpreter on Capitol Hill visiting the offices of senators and representatives.

It was one of the few times in my nearly 40 years as a Washington correspondent that I crossed the line barring reporters from direct involvement in “lobbying” or “partisan politics.” When the Young Workers’ Liberation League asked me to make the arrangements for Gladys’ visit, I asked myself, “How can I refuse, knowing what she has gone through?” So I did it and kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t end up losing my congressional press credential.

It was very hard to arrange appointments on short notice. Most of the meetings were impromptu encounters in House and Senate corridors. Gladys and I cornered Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) at the conclusion of a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I told Inouye that Gladys was a “colleague” since she was a member of the Chilean Parliament until forced out by the 1973 fascist coup d’état led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

That was enough. Inouye stopped in his tracks to listen. A combat war hero who lost an arm fighting Hitler during World War II, Inouye knew something about fascism. He sat down with her and listened to her recount the ordeal of her people, the murder by the fascists of thousands, with her husband, Jorge Muñoz, then among hundreds of “disappeared.”

Inouye told Marin he was doing what he could, including arguing against increased U.S. military assistance to the Chilean dictatorship.

We walked across the hall to the office of Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.). I was trying to maintain a low profile but Abourezk insisted that I join Gladys, the interpeter and him in his office. He looked me up and down. “I remember you. You’re a reporter.”

I replied, “Yes, but I’m off-duty.” I promised him that if he wished, everything he said would be off-the-record.

A lively exchange followed, with Abourezk, one of only two or three Arab Americans in Congress, questioning Gladys closely about conditions in Chile. She explained that she was living in exile and traveling around the world to build a solidarity movement in hopes of restoring democracy in her country. Abourezk promised to do all he could to promote that cause in Congress.

On the other side of the Capitol, we walked into the office of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.). We nearly ran over “Battling Bella” in the reception area. Wearing her big floppy hat, she was on her way to the House floor. I pleaded with her to give Gladys a few minutes. “I haven’t got time,” she snapped. “Why didn’t you call for an appointment?” She made a move toward the door.

“Mrs. Abzug,” I exclaimed, “Gladys Marin is your colleague, a duly elected member of the Chilean Parliament. You owe it to her to listen to her story.”

To my amazement, Bella turned back. She led us into her office and sat down with a grumpy expression.

Softly, Gladys said, “After the coup in September of last year, I was forced to flee for my life. I am living in exile like many others from the Popular Unity government. We are working to build a movement of solidarity against the dictatorship. We need your help.”

The moment Gladys began to speak, Bella fell silent, listening raptly.

“Do you have a family?” she asked.

“Yes. My husband Jorge Muñoz is missing. I was forced to leave him and my two children behind. I don’t know if my husband is alive.”

Gladys went on to recount the terror unleashed upon the Chilean people, her voice trembling.

Tears welled in Bella’s eyes. “You are a very brave young woman,” she said. Bella, too, vowed to speak out more forcefully against Washington’s connivance with the fascist regime. As we parted, Bella threw her arms around Gladys in a warm embrace.

By the time that day was over, we had visited 15 or more offices, meeting with lawmakers and their aides. Gladys was elated. She told me that we in the U.S. were underestimating what we could accomplish in exposing Pinochet and forcing an end to U.S. support of the regime.

Over the years, I followed Gladys’s career — her return to Chile, her becoming the leader of the Communist Party of Chile. She filed the first lawsuit against Pinochet and his fellow butchers, seeking justice in the murder of her husband and ten other Communist leaders.

But the Gladys I remember is the beautiful woman I spent a day with on Capitol Hill, her dark eyes full of sorrow, her clenched jaw and firm mouth a portrait of grace under fire. She is Chile’s “La Pasionaria.” She is “Mother Courage.

Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212 @yahoo.com) is the PWW’s national political correspondent.

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